A group of IWAI members have been working over the past several months to produce charts that will be of benefit to all users of our inland waterways. Les Saunders, PRO for the group describes what it is all about.


The Charts Special Interest Group (C-SIG) was formed in late 2011 when a number of IWAI members with an interest in creating accurate charts for all the Irish inland waterways got together to initially map the Shannon. Almost immediately, it was clear that the charts produced would be of enormous benefit to all boaters and was in keeping with the aims, objectives and policies of the IWAI. After a presentation to a Lough Derg branch meeting, we are delighted to announce that the Derg branch has agreed to sponsor the C-SIG and will manage the funds donated to the C-SIG as a project within the branch. This is important because the structure of a SIG means there is no committee and no treasurer.

The C-SIG fulfils one of the major goals of the IWAI from the Memorandum of the Association:

To prepare, either alone or in collaboration with any other body, guide books, charts, maps and other literature suitable for use by persons using the Irish navigations for any purpose, and to foster public interest in and knowledge of the Irish waterways by disseminating information on the subject to members and to the general public.

The Technical group within the C-SIG consists of a Mapping Master, a Survey Officer, Equipment Officers, a Data Officer, a Liaison Officer, a Public Relations Officer and a Communications Officer. There are now a total of 27 members from 9 different branches within the group, and with the varied skill sets available there is room for us all. We are open to any member of the IWAI who wishes to help in any way, and you would be surprised at the kind of information we need, such as the names of bays, hideaway places, best eateries, and so on. So, if you would like to be part of the C-SIG just email barge41m@yahoo.co.uk and we’ll get you going.


What have we achieved to date? Well, actually, quite a lot has been done in a short amount of time. Anyone who has seen the demonstration has appreciated the amount of effort and the results to date. Essentially, after thousands of hours put in by our Mapping Master, Trevor Northage, and our Survey Officer, Pat McManus, and many hours by the remaining members of the C-SIG, we have effectively produced a working set of charts for the Shannon basin. Large areas have been surveyed from scratch, not using or relying on existing survey material. This is the first time this has been done to this level since Commander Wolfe led his team in the 1830s. The survey team have used GPS with modern day kit attached, for example, sonar, sidescannners and satellite imagery hooked to specialist software running on laptops to produce the results. We have found quite a few areas of interest where shoals, rocks, and deep crevasses have not been mapped before, and of course, the shoreline data is now very accurate. We continue to survey daily and hope to cover all of the inland waterways of Ireland. Given the effort that we have put in to date we are continuously amazed at the accuracy (although now different) that Commander Wolfe and his team achieved in the 1830s with a rowing boat, a sextant and a lead line. But this is not just about having a chart to show you the way from A to B; there are proprietary charts such as those produced by Navionics and Garmin currently available to do that. This project is about saving the old names of bays, providing details of the history in interesting places, highlighting the archaeology and hence protecting it for future investigation, making updates on a frequent basis, acquiring bottom data for better anchoring, providing warning notices, photographs, and even videos of how to get into that hideaway anchorage, and allowing for personalisation of data. In other words, merging our heritage with the most up to date information and technology and providing a repository for all that information. This opens up the navigation to more than just the current ‘handrail’. The equipment needed to display the charts is very low cost, easy to set up and allows those of us slightly challenged by small screens to easily read the information.

With respect to charting other parts of our inland waterways, we have data starting to be collected on the River Barrow, The Grand Canal, The Royal Canal, Lough Key, and Upper and Lower Lough Erne. We have also committed to survey parts of the River Liffey, and this will happen before the end of the year. Trevor has a fantastic site (www.anglingcharts.com) which covers Lough Corrib and other fishing lakes. One interesting subproject we have started, and is progressing nicely is the historical chart of the Newry Canal. This will include fully immersive historical data showing you not only what is there today, but also what was there in its heyday, to be used from the towpath or on the canal. We have yet to start on the SEW, the Limerick navigation, the Boyne navigation, and Lough Allen although we do have shoreline data for these. We have also some data on Lough Neagh and the River Bann. Lough Oughter, south of Belturbet, holds a special interest for us, since this area has spectacular scenery, lots of hidey places, is well sheltered, has lots of villages, good depth, and would take very little to open up to the main navigation. So, it is fair to say, we have our hands full.

Of course all this would not be complete if we didn’t include the other part of the IWAI goal, which is to collaborate with other groups. On that front we have already found that such groups that we have been in contact with are very interested in what we are doing. These include divers (who are assisting us in surveying already), walkers, cyclists, anglers, hire companies, and even Waterways Ireland. The rescue services in particular, have expressed great interest, particularly with the standardisation of place names, accurate positioning, and hot links for contact information.


So, as a user of the charts, what is needed to get operational? The availability of Opensource [software available to everyone and on many different makes of equipment], has enabled us to produce the charts on this software and across many platforms. The overriding factor for us in developing the charts is cost and flexibility. So although it is possible to produce charts on chartplotters, we do not intend to do that yet, because chartplotters are very expensive, have poor interactive capability, are usually proprietary and are already serviced with charts. The software we are using comes with a choice, either the totally free OpenCPN product, or the one time licence (cost £15 sterling) MemoryMap product. Both of these can be downloaded to a Windows laptop, a Mac laptop, or via a MemoryMap app to an iPad.

You will of course require a GPS feed to these. A combined outdoor aerial and USB GPS chip set can be purchased for around 30 euros delivered. Most iPads now come with GPS, but the earlier ones can be connected to a Bluetooth GPS unit at a slightly higher cost. The laptop opens up fantastic possibilities with the use of ‘hot links’. The main group of hotlinks will be downloadable from our web site at a later date, but unlike with chartplotters, this system allows for personalisation. In the old days you would write notes on your chart, now you can do it with these on your laptop, take a photograph and have it on the chart and so on. The charts will be downloadable from our IWAI website www.charts.iwai.ie , but since this website is at a very early stage have a look at www.anglingcharts.com to see what the web site is likely to look like. In fact, there are pilot charts available there right now for download in pdf format, which have been produced by the C-SIG, and kindly made available by Trevor on his own site.


Of course, some of the information that turns up leads to real surprises, like the ancient dugout canoe that Trevor found using his sidescanner, and subsequently photographed by Ciaran O’Murchu, a real archaeological find. And for those fishermen amongst us, how about the deep hole that Pat found in a very unexpected area within a shoal, surveying stopped, a hook was dropped and this very large fish was caught. He still hasn’t told us where it is, or what fish he caught, except to say it was really big and he’ll tell us eventually where he found it. That is the nice thing, you just don’t know what is likely to turn up, and the search becomes a passion.

And there is more, when a site is found that has archaeological interest we highlight that, and mark it for no anchoring, such as at Safe Harbour in Lough Ree. In fact, Waterways Ireland removed the mooring buoy and placed a rotating jetty there to eliminate anchoring, and because we can update the charts quickly this jetty is reflected already.


So where do we go from here? We will continue to survey, gather more historical information (especially for the canals), work to get the web site working well, but most importantly acquire some specialised equipment to ease the workload. Our shopping list includes Multibeam sonar, sidescanners and a few simpler GPS/sonar units. We also need licences for some of the specialist software used to create the charts.

So, in essence we need some money. Dublin and Derg Branches have already committed project funds to us and we hope to achieve more funds from branches as we present to them and show them the progress of the project. How can you contribute? Several ways – send us your tracklogs (check with Pat first, since they need to be set to a datum and frequency), send us the names of places you know, give us the history of your local area or take a video of that hard to navigate private river. Or, you can ask your branch for us to give a presentation, we would love to do that.

In late November, a ‘meet and greet’ day is planned at Shannon Harbour, where anyone interested can come and see our progress, view our survey boats and how they are set up, and learn all about how to do surveying. Come and join us in what has to be one of the best projects that members of the IWAI have undertaken for some time.

© Les Saunders 2012